Kansas Sends Far Too Many Youth To Prison

The Kansas juvenile justice system ranks 8th worst in the nation for overuse of out-of-home placements and 15th worst for overuse of juvenile prisons. Youth prisons are very expensive — it costs $240 a day for each kid — which means the Kansas Department of Corrections each year spends more than two thirds of its juvenile services budget on youth prisons and out-of-home placements. This is especially wasteful because nearly 80 percent of youth sent to those placements are only low- or moderate-risk. Right now, Kansas only spends a tiny fraction of its juvenile justice budget on prevention or early intervention programs.

This system is ineffective and inconsistent. In Kansas, many children are punished more severely than adults – for example, 35% of youth released from our juvenile prisons last year were sentenced for misdemeanors only, but adults in Kansas are never placed in prison for misdemeanors – and our state places mandatory minimums on many youth, requiring them to spend far longer in prison than is necessary for rehabilitation. Black and Latino children are incarcerated at a much higher rate than White children in Kansas, and children with disabilities spend longer in the juvenile justice system, as do children with mental health challenges.

alternatives to incarceration are the best path forward for kansas

Fortunately, communities across the country have developed proven alternatives to incarceration that rehabilitate kids and get them — and their families — back on the right path. Wyandotte County, for example, implemented a program called MultiSystemic Therapy in 2013. That program is an alternative to prison for high-risk youth, and it reduced out-of-home placements in Wyandotte County by more than 25 percent. While prisons don’t do a good job of holding kids accountable, alternatives like MultiSystemic Therapy force youth to take responsibility for their actions and develop good behaviors so they don’t commit crimes in the future.

Youth arrest rates in Kansas have fallen more than 50 percent in the past ten years. But even though Kansas’s youth arrest rate is lower than the national average, our youth incarceration rate remains higher than most other states. It’s been 18 years since the Kansas Legislature enacted major legislation on juvenile justice and our laws need to catch up. Kansas has an opportunity to give our kids a brighter future and make our communities safer. Together, we can stop locking so many kids up and instead prioritize funding for proven, lower-cost community solutions.